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As part of our annual Young Millionaires cover story, we spoke to three up-and-coming thinkers, inventors, and entrepreneurs who are on track to be tomorrow’s leaders. Here’s there advice for taking action.
Starting small, thinking big
Arya Mathew, 21
Cofounder and CEO, Nature’s Label
You probably don’t think much about those little stickers that come on produce, but they represent a potentially big problem. “Our journey began when one of our team members accidentally swallowed a plastic product sticker,” says Arya Mathew, CEO of Nature’s Label. “We determined that while relatively safe to consume, these stickers have a much more concerning impact on the environment.” In fact, each year, avocados, oranges, and bananas sold in the U.S. are labeled with enough plastic stickers to wrap around the Earth 1.6 times — and their presence forces nearly 15 percent of compost to be thrown into landfills.
Now Mathew, along with cofounders Sophie Ye, 20, Khoi Ha, 21, Alyssa Mell, 21, and Siddhant Jain, 21, are creating a solution called Nature’s Label: eco-friendly stickers made of rice paper, wax, and a compostable adhesive. They’re all undergrads at the University of Washington and Seattle University, and they’re being funded in part by a recent $10,000 win at Seattle University’s Harriet Stephenson Business Plan Competition. “Bringing an idea to reality is not easy,” says cofounder Mell. “We’ve learned to use feedback and criticism as fuel rather than discouragement.”
Related: 5 Truths That Made Me a Millionaire at 22
Capturing value while creating value
Phat Le, 25
Founder and CEO, Blest
Phat Le was studying aerospace engineering when he realized that college just wasn’t for him. He dropped out and tried educating himself, but he was underwhelmed by the options — just online courses and virtual classrooms. “At the same time,” he says,
“I saw that consumers are willing to pay more for premium content, but creators are stuck duct-taping multiple products together to provide that experience.”
So he knew what to do: He’d build a better product.
Le already had a résumé built on self-determination — he was a self-taught UI designer and software engineer and a recipient of the $100,000 Thiel Fellowship in 2017, as well as an entrepreneur in residence at Jaguar Land Rover. Now he’s created Blest: The ad-free platform hosts courses, memberships, and other products to serve online communities. “We want to help people run their entire business from one place, to capture more of the value they’re creating,” he says. A public beta comes out this year, and Blest is slated to launch in 2021. And just as his company is all about community, Le has learned that entrepreneurship is, too. “Pick your friends wisely,” he advises. “People who challenge you, inspire you. You are the sum of the top five people you surround yourself with.”
Related: 3 Insights About Entrepreneurship Inspired by Youth
First passion, then pragmatism
Giullian Yao Gioiello
Ann Makosinski, 22
When Ann Makosinski was a kid, her parents didn’t shower her with toys or electronics. She’s grateful. “If I wanted more toys, I was given a glue gun and told to make my own,” she says. “If I wanted a toy house, I made it out of cardboard. If I had grown up owning a smartphone, I would be a very, very different person.”
Today she’s an inventor — one who, at 15, won the top prize for her age category at the Google Science Fair for her flashlight powered by the energy from a human hand. Makosinski is now repurposing that patented technology to create eco-conscious toys. “For me, an inventor is someone who has an idea and turns it into something tangible, and an entrepreneur takes that invention and turns it into something commercially viable,” she says. “I enjoy the inventor aspect more, but I’m also playing the part of the entrepreneur, pitching to different companies. Success in business is not something you just wake up one morning and have. It takes years of hard work. But you must be passionate. The rest will follow.”
Related: 7 Mental Shifts That Allowed Me to Become a Millionaire at 22